Could Jack Leiter endanger this Rangers player’s spot in the starting rotation?

Is the Rangers former first-round pick finally living up to his potential?

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Jack Leiter (71) pitches
Texas Rangers starting pitcher Jack Leiter (71) pitches / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Should Dane Dunning already be nervous about his roster spot? If Jack Leiter keeps pitching like he did on Sunday, Dunning is going to start looking over his shoulder. Leiter's first start of the season for Triple-A Round Rock was quite impressive. The 23-year-old went five innings on Sunday and punched out nine batters in his debut for the Round Rock Express.

Leiter has been a rather polarizing prospect since the Texas Rangers selected him second overall in the 2021 MLB Draft. The son of former major league pitcher Al Leiter, the right-hander was viewed much in the same way scouts and experts now see Paul Skenes; an advanced college pitcher who should fly up through the minor league ranks and arrive in the big leagues in short order.

That hasn't been the case yet for Leiter who didn't appear in a professional game until 2022. Leiter's first season saw him struggle with a 5.54 ERA in 22 starts at Double-A Frisco. Leiter struggled again in 2023, and didn't show enough during spring training this year to earn a spot on the Rangers Opening Day roster.

Rangers prospect Jack Leiter could steal Dane Dunning's spot on the roster

But if Leiter can ride the wave of momentum from his first Triple-A start, he could certainly be knocking on the door to the big leagues. The former Vanderbilt Commodore has the pedigree and the arsenal to be part of a major league rotation, but the production has lagged behind the potential.

At the moment, the Rangers rotation consists of Dunning, Jon Gray, Nathan Eovaldi, Cody Bradford, and Andrew Heaney. Of those five starters, only Dunning and Brandford have minor league options remaining. After watching Bradford get the win over the weekend against the Chicago Cubs while striking out a team-high six batters, there's reason to believe his roster spot is not in jeopardy.

But Leiter's first start at Triple-A will put increased pressure on Dunning to mimic what Bradford did in his first start of the season. When a player of Leiter's draft status and stature pitches as well as he did on Sunday, the entire organization takes notice.

The presence of a player like Wyatt Langford on the Rangers Opening Day roster shows a willingness by Texas' front office to promote their prospects rather quickly. If Leiter can follow up his first performance of the season with an equally dominant outing, it may not be long before the pressure sets in.

Texas is still waiting for Michael Lorenzen, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Tyler Mahle to return from the IL, so a little healthy competition is never a bad thing. Having pitchers like Dunning, Leiter, and Bradford going toe-to-toe against one another will only help add depth to a key part of the Rangers roster moving forward.

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